Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bush to seek unity on Iran, N.Korea on trip

Steve Holland, Reuters:
President George W. Bush, leaving on Wednesday for Germany and Russia, will urge key allies to stay united in their drive to contain the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, aides said.

His talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Stralsund, Germany, and with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders at a Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg are likely to be dominated by what his administration considers twin threats to world peace.

Bush's decision to start his trip by meeting Merkel in her home region is a nod to her growing importance in Europe. Merkel replaced Gerhard Schroeder, who clashed with Bush over the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

While at the St. Petersburg summit, Bush said he would push for greater use of civilian nuclear power as a way to wean the world off its addiction to oil, and will seek to keep alive world trade talks stalled by failure to reach an agreement on reducing agricultural subsidies, among other issues.

Bush would express U.S. concerns that Russia is backsliding on democracy "frankly but privately," said Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, in a sign that pressing Russian President Vladimir Putin hard on the issue publicly would be counterproductive, given the need for unity on Iran and North Korea.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the Group of Eight summit is shaping up to be an important one.

"I think this is a highly unusual G8 summit, to be honest, in the sense that so many issues are ripe at the time that the leaders are meeting," he told reporters. READ MORE

Bush, who angered key allies by going to war in Iraq without broader support, is seeking a diplomatic outcome to both the Iran and North Korea challenges.

The leaders he will talk to on the trip, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, all agreed on the need to keep nuclear arms out of Iranian and North Korean hands, but China and Russia oppose imposing U.N. sanctions on them.

Bush goes on his 16th trip to Europe at a time when his popularity ratings at home are between 35 and 40 percent, largely due to the Iraq war and high gasoline prices.

He has been emphasizing diplomacy so much recently on Iran and North Korea that Time magazine wrote a cover story headlined "The End of Cowboy Diplomacy." The White House dismissed that premise.

"Has he been a cowboy in trying to assemble the largest international coalitions ever to go after misbehavior on the part of individual actors? The answer is that this is a president who has always seen diplomacy as the first and most important step to take in trying to prevent people from behaving badly," Snow said.

Democrats said Bush was to blame for letting the Iran and North Korea challenges worsen under his watch.

"Unfortunately, the Bush record of addressing today's challenges -- from the threats posed by North Korea and Iran, to relations with Russia, to energy security and international trade -- has been poor," said the office of Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.